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July 8, 2014updated 22 Sep 2016 11:37am

Speeding ahead: How IT is helping accelerate F1

Q+A: Lotus F1 Team CEO 'the only way to develop the car is through technology'

By Vinod

Formula One is increasingly becoming one of the most technologically advanced sports in the world, with teams gathering huge amounts of data from their cars as they seek that extra bit of speed. But just how big a part is IT playing in a team’s performance? CBR sat down with Lotus F1 CEO Matthew Carter (below) to find out more around his team use their IT services, particularly their partnership with software giant Avanade.

Lotus CEO

So what is your typical schedule over a race weekend?

Between myself and Gerard Lopez, who is one of our owners and the Team Principal, one of us has to be at every race, so one of us is there from a Thursday evening through to the Sunday. Through the practice sessions, we’ll sit on the pit wall, and try and make sure everything is going to plan.

How much does IT play in ensuring success for an F1 team?

It’s essential – going back four or five years, the industry tried to cut costs, and one of the ways they did that was to stop testing – both in-season and pre-season. It was completely wiped out last year, but this year’s there’s two four-day tests. That means that the only way that we can develop the car really is through technology – so the more technically advanced we are, the more advantage we should have over the rest of the teams.

The guys at Avanade work within the Lotus team, they help us to write software, new programs and applications that assist with everything from stress on the cars to the simulator to strategy on the race weekend.

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What does it mean to have someone like Avanade on board to help process and interpret all the data produced over a race weekend?

Again, it’s essential – we obviously have our internal guys, like strategists and race engineers, but over the race weekend the data that we collect from the car needs to be analysed, processed, and fed back to those guys so that they can make decisions in terms of pit stops etc.

The car is so much more advanced this year with the electric sources – we have a kinetic recovery system alongside a heat recovery system, which both feed into the battery which can be deployed during the lap at any time. So it’s quite key for us to work out on which laps to deploy this and the best strategy overall – whether that be to defend from the car behind or attack the car in front, or to push before and after a pit stop – but the strategy that goes around all that is obviously worked through technology.

We’re around halfway through the Formula One season now – how do you see your technological partnerships playing out over the rest of the year?

I think that technology will become more and more key to the sport – going forward, the rule changes, in terms of the design of the car, the engine rule changes etc, run until 2020, so there’s a long time to get to grips with those. We have a much smaller budget than at least five of the teams ahead of us, so we have to be a little bit smarter and a little bit cleverer in how we do things – they can afford to throw resources and people at things whereas we can’t.

What do you look for in an IT or technology partner?

Well that fact that we are so dynamic, and we do change and iterate so quickly – what we’re designing for the car for this weekend will become obsolete and be redesigned in time for the next race – so we need a partner that reacts very very quickly. We have to use technology to act quickly, so it’s no use having a slow-reacting partner, as that just wouldn’t fit within our business. So we need someone that mirrors us in terms of Formula One, that is, being quick and reactive and fast to respond.

Formula One has traditionally been a sport all about excess and wealth – do you think that these new cuts are leading efficiency to be the key watchword now?

It has to be – there’s been a lot of talk about cost-cutting within Formula One, and it’s been very difficult to do it, the same as in football – the people that have got the money are always going to find a way to spend it. What we can do is become more efficient and use technology to push us forward – we have to spend the money that we’ve got, and spend it wisely.

Formula One typically features new and exciting technology – do you think the sport can be a pioneer in these areas before passing on the knowledge to road cars?

That’s the theory behind it – our car for next year will officially be called a hybrid car, although technically they are all hybrids this year, and this technology will filter down in some format down to road cars. This is the way that the sport is going – the governing body is trying to get as much technology into the cars before passing it down. There are also a lot of safety features that have come from Formula One, so it is a proving ground as the pinnacle of motorsport.

So looking ahead, how do you see the rest of the season panning out?

It’s difficult – as a business, we’re trying to perform in more efficient terms and work on a smaller budget than some of the other teams, so we have to develop next year’s car at the same time as working on this year’s car. This year has been difficult – the rule changes have affected us without a doubt, and Renault, our engine supplier, are working hard to improve on their products to us, but they were such a long way behind at the start of the season that it’s hard to catch that up, but we’re hopeful going forward.


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